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Posted at 4:25 PM ET, 03/29/2010

Arne Duncan the heartbreaker and Race to the Top

By Valerie Strauss

That Arne Duncan, he’s a real heartbreaker.

Just a few weeks ago, Duncan proudly announced that there were 16 finalists in his $4 billion “Race to the Top” competition for cash, er, I mean, federal funds that are being doled out to states who devise an education reform plan of which Duncan approves.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia sent teams to woo Education Department officials in Washington. The teams had 30 minutes to make a presentation and then 60 minutes to answer questions with a panel of judges.

It sounds a little too much like the reality fashion show "Project Runway" for my taste, but never mind.

Today Duncan slapped down most of the finalists, announcing that there were only two states that had created a plan he liked well enough: Tennessee and Delaware.

Now tiny Delaware will get as much $107 million from the Race to the Top fund, and Tennessee will get as much as $602 million. Now the other states can go back and revise their dresses, I mean, their reform projects, and get ready for the next round of the reality competition.

Poor Washington D.C., where Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s take-no-prisoners reform plan has been lauded by the federal government, ended up last among the finalists, according to my colleague Bill Turque.

Turque reported that part of the problem for D.C. may have been the trouble it has had in developing a data information system. Millions of dollars have been spent over the years but still no real system exists. And using “data” to drive reform is one of Duncan’s core principles, even though we all know that data is vulnerable to manipulation.

In this story in the News Journal, Michael Horn, executive director of education at Innosight Institute, a nonprofit advocate of education innovation, said that Delaware’s winning application was strong on its use of data.

It also made a big deal out of linking teacher evaluation to student performance, including results on standardized tests -- another big issue for Duncan. Some assessment experts say linking teacher pay to test scores is a bad idea, but Duncan likes it anyway.

Meanwhile, 40 points of the 500-point program measurement scale was tied to “successful conditions for charter schools.”

Though studies have shown that charter schools in general do no better educating students than traditional public schools, Duncan likes charter schools anyway, which may have been what sunk finalist North Carolina, which currently has a statewide cap of 100 public charter schools.

Talk about micromanaging.

Horn noted that Delaware’s application did not have much in the way of really innovative programs, and did not have what the article called a “student-centric focus.”

"There’s a lot of great jargon, but when you step back from it, it’s hard to figure out what they just said they were going to do," Horn was quoted as saying.

Duncan uses a lot of jargon too, but it is easy to understand what he is trying to do with education: expand charter schools, increase student standardized testing, link teacher pay to test scores and close down the nation’s lowest-performing schools.

Unfortunately, what is not easy to understand is why President Obama's education secretary is pushing those initiatives. This administration was supposed to bring some reason back into education reform after the failed era of No Child Left Behind.

But from the looks of it, Secretary Duncan may be taking on a race to somewhere even worse.

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By Valerie Strauss  | March 29, 2010; 4:25 PM ET
Categories:  Education Secretary Duncan, Race to the Top  | Tags:  Arne Duncan, NCLB, Race to the Top  
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Next: College Tour '10 begins

Comments

As a public school teacher who is convinced that you have to teach to understand the issues, this is the one Obama initiative with which I have significant problems.

I like that he is proposing to revamp NCLB to eliminate that dubious AYP component that I am convinced no one understood. Also, it induced cheating, even though we know that administrators are some of the most ethical professionals on earth!!##%%

I do believe that the President is a good listener, though, so I believe that as he travels the country and engages teachers over the summer, he would begin to show signs of modifying his stance and would reign in Mr. Duncan. At least, that's what I'm hoping.

Posted by: vscribe | March 29, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Also, it induced cheating, even though we know that administrators are some of the most ethical professionals on earth!!##%%


I wish Valerie or Jay would do a little research on how common cheating is, and the specifics of how it is done. I doubt that anyone would speak on the record because of the obvious consequences, but perhaps they know some real live people in some schools that would fill them in

Posted by: mamoore1 | March 29, 2010 7:48 PM | Report abuse

Teachers and the unions that represent them have been loyal supporters of the Democratic Party. This includes myself. Obama and Arne "Never Taught a Day in His Life" Duncan have decided to sell us down the river. So be it. I will be changing my political registration to Indep. and sitting out the mid-terms. I advise my fellow teachers to do the same. See if Obama's math is right, that he can get more votes attacking us than supporting us. Good luck in 2012.

Posted by: patnmi3 | March 29, 2010 9:02 PM | Report abuse

THANK YOU from Florida. I think your questioning to Arne Duncan about teacher's situation in Florida helped to delay the R2tT grant. Still, the Florida legislature will vote to end the teacher profession and public education this upcoming Thursday. I just want to present to your readers Florida teachers' position as it is distorted by FL legislators:

Tenure (or continuing contract like teachers get in FL) was initiated "... during the late 19th century. Just as steel and auto workers fought against unsafe working conditions and unlivable wages, teachers too demanded protection from parents and administrators (add politicians) who would try to dictate lesson plans or exclude controversial materials like Huck Finn from reading lists..." In other words tenure allow FL teachers to teach to the children what they consider is the best material for them to succeed.

Teachers are not against firing BAD teachers; do parents think teachers want more Debra Lafave wanabees or Mickey Mouse teachers in their schools?

Teachers are NOT against merit pay, as long as it is fair, scientific, repeatable, and that applies to ALL circumstances (poor and rich schools).

Teachers are not all unionized. The unions are the ones not giving out the number of their members to the public. And, teachers are not all Democrats.

Posted by: redisni | March 29, 2010 9:09 PM | Report abuse

Can't imagine why Florida didn't make the cut, yea, right. Thanks for printing our info from Florida. Maybe someone is finally listening in the White House.

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | March 29, 2010 10:19 PM | Report abuse

Vscribe says: " do believe that the President is a good listener, though, so I believe that as he travels the country and engages teachers over the summer, he would begin to show signs of modifying his stance and would reign in Mr. Duncan. At least, that's what I'm hoping."

Vscribe, I hope you get his travel schedule and are in the front row wherever he goes. Maybe you could get a seat on Air Force 1.

He needs to hear your wisdom.

Posted by: efavorite | March 29, 2010 10:59 PM | Report abuse

veteranteacher1 - Don't get your hopes up. It looks like Dunc arbitrarily set the cut score at 440. FL got 431. Probably he justed wanted to hold a good chunk of the money back 'cause he likes to see states salivating over it.

Horn didn't see what DE was planning to do? Oh, that's easy: data analyst teams to inform data driven instruction, performance management groups do to data driven performance management, and lots of of data driven this and that. The state is guaranteeing 55% proficiency on the NAEP by 2015. Should be fun to watch since they have made roughly no gains on the NAEP for the past 6 years. They'll have to tweak that up a bit over the next 6 if they want to hit those targets.

Posted by: dz159 | March 29, 2010 11:05 PM | Report abuse

So Michelle Rhee, the Data Queen,, got knocked down on her lousy data system.

What's wrong with those folks at DOE? Sounds like they're checking the facts instead of falling for the drivel on the editorial page.

I can see Rhee plotting her revenge now! But will her new media consultant comply?

Stay tuned for the next episode of Michelle Rhee Faces Life.

Posted by: efavorite | March 29, 2010 11:22 PM | Report abuse

There are some good points to Race to the Top and some bad points, but the grant process was 100% stupid. Now that the other 48 states have seen what it looks like, I doubt there will be many applicants for future rounds.

Posted by: Pimms | March 30, 2010 2:00 AM | Report abuse

Great post, Valerie. I have to agree with "vscribe" too about the importance of teachers' understanding of the issues here. It never seems to matter to our critics how many experts in economics, social policy, testing and psychometrics agree with our position - they think that anything we oppose is strictly about self-interest. Let's hope that Obama and Duncan are not in that camp, and trust teachers a bit more than that. Hope... though evidence is scant. It does not bode well for this administration that so few teachers and teaching organizations have championed any of their policies.

http://accomplishedcaliforniateachers.wordpress.com

Posted by: DavidBCohen | March 30, 2010 2:27 AM | Report abuse

Everyone on this blog seems so well informed I wanted to ask for some help on a question about RTTT that has come up for me. I recently got an email from an assistant state superintendent saying that the Federal government plans to reduce Title I funding for each disadvantaged student to around $2,000/yr by 2012. My question is: are we in a 'transition' away from the Equal Education Opportunity Act towards this 'project runway' funding competition format that Valerie refers to for federal funding? The way I am reading Valerie's blog, there appears to be a real danger that this 'project runway' funding format could easily be misused by the judges to eliminate 'competition' from their rivals with 'national' interests in the 'educational marketplace.' Does this mean 'educational markets' are not self-regulating?

Posted by: mrpozzi | March 30, 2010 3:35 AM | Report abuse

The suggestion that the Race to the Top seemed like reality tv show resonated with me. It felt like schools were being asked to put on a dog and pony show for cash -- and not very much money at that.

Palo Alto Superintendent Kevin Skelly, whose district did not submit an application for RTTT funds, figured, "[I]f you divide the dollars by the number of kids, you could end up with $20 a student. It just seems like it would be a lot of time for not many resources."

Our kids are worth way more than $20 a day! And the time it takes to go after funds like these would be better spent teaching students. What we need is not one-time money that must be won with a song and a dance but a long-term commitment that's equitable and enough to sustain strong schools and libraries for all our kids from now on.

At least now the 2 states at the top have that chance. For the 48 states that lost the race, maybe there'll be other opportunities, like "Project Classroom," "Teacher Idol," "Teaching with the Stars," "America's Next Top Teacher," or "So You Think You Can Teach?"

Anna Koval
Teacher/Librarian
Sonoma, California
Walt Disney Teacher of the Year Nominee 2006
American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association Emerging Leader 2010

Posted by: msannakoval | March 30, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Anna Koval points out that RTTT does not result in a lot of new funding. For California, it would amount a one-time payoff of 700 million. In contrast, if California dropped its worthless high school exit exam, it would save 500 million EVERY YEAR. Why are states so eager to be part of RTTT?

Posted by: skrashen | March 30, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

I do not beleive that you must teach in order to understand this debate, and this type of thinking is exactly why education reamins focused on the needs of teachers versus the needs of the students. A teacher must teach and teach successfully regardless of a student's social backgroud, race, religion, economic status, etc. No amount of federal fuding will change the quality of education offered by our public education systems until the standards for teaching and expectations for learning are raised drastically. Lawmakers must engage parents in this debate,a nd force them to recognize the severe disservice to the future of this nation that's taking place in our public schools.

Posted by: chazaraclark-smith | March 30, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

I do not beleive that you must teach in order to understand this debate, and this type of thinking is exactly why education reamins focused on the needs of teachers versus the needs of the students. A teacher must teach and teach successfully regardless of a student's social backgroud, race, religion, economic status, etc. No amount of federal fuding will change the quality of education offered by our public education systems until the standards for teaching and expectations for learning are raised drastically. Lawmakers must engage parents in this debate,a nd force them to recognize the severe disservice to the future of this nation that's taking place in our public schools.

Posted by: chazaraclark-smith | March 30, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

It' not Race to the Top, it's Waste to the Top.

Posted by: aby1 | March 30, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

Tune in for a Live Webcast on Education Reform

On Tuesday, April 6th at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time, the Honorable Arne Duncan will join Organizing for America supporters for a special, first-of-its-kind, live webcast about student loan reform and the administration's efforts to prepare our children to compete in the global economy.

http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/duncanchat/

Posted by: kdemerly1 | April 5, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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